Gathering and Preserving the Herbal Bounty: A New Video Series

By Susan Belsinger

Greetings and Happy Autumn!

Herbal Salts are wonderful condimnts to have on handI am writing this on the evening of the full harvest moon—it is shining bright in the night sky just over the treetops. We are also celebrating the Autumnal Equinox. I know that fall is here by the feeling in the air—cooler nights—and needing to grab that extra blanket; the smells are different—moist, earthy, and leafy; the departure of the hummingbirds since the jewelweed blooms are fading; the slowing down of plant growth in the garden and the ripening of others—herbs are maturing, flowers are showing off their last hurrahs, and many plants are producing seeds. It is time for gathering the bounty and celebrating the harvest!

I am simply delighted to share some news with you. Last harvest season, I made three educational videos featuring “Gathering and Preserving the Herbal Bounty” for members of The Herb Society of America.

These videos give instructions for harvesting and preserving herbs fresh from the garden. Simple tried-and-true techniques are shown and discussed in 15-minute segments. These video shorts cover some of the best ways to preserve herbs, with each technique discussed in detail, and relevant recipes included. 

The three videos include:  “Aromatic Herbal Pastes & Butters,” “Herb Salts, Sugars & Honeys,” and “Herbal Mustards.” Below are brief descriptions of each video.

Making herbal pastes is a great way to capture the essence of herbsAromatic Herbal Pastes and Herb Butters

Using fresh herbs to make herbal pastes is a quick and easy way to put up the herbal harvest and captures the essence for long-term storage in the freezer.

Butters are a great way to feature herbs, and the combinations are infinite as well as tasty; they can be eaten right away or stored in the fridge or freezer, whether they are made into logs for slicing or packed into crocks. 

Herb Salts, Sugars, and Honey

Adding herbs to sugar or salt is a good way to have herbs stored and readily available to use. Herb sugars can be added to desserts, baked goods, beverages, or used to rim a cocktail glass, while salts can be added to any savory dish while cooking or as a garnish for breads, crackers, salads, and vegetables. I had to add herbal honeys in at the end of this video, since I prepare and use them often and they are so easy to make.

Herbal Mustards

Making mustard is fairly easy and can be quite delicious when embellished with herbs. Knowing the process and ingredients and how they work will result in an array of tasty condiments. Do make these—they will expand your herbal horizons—you will love them!

You can use many different herbs to make savory mustardsEach one of these short videos is shot in my home kitchen and are chockablock full of information. I also include handouts with lots of information and recipes. The videos are located in the member section of The Herb Society of America website. Members have free access to these and the webinar library with over 60 titles to inspire and educate on a wide variety of herbal topics. Join today to enjoy these and other member benefits: https://www.herbsociety.org/join.html

I hope that these videos inspire y’all to get out there right away and gather your herbs to preserve your herbal bounty! These methods are great ways to capture the essence of herbs. You will be so glad that you did come winter. As a bonus, all of these homemade products make wonderfully tasty and heartfelt gifts.

Here’s to a bountiful harvest season and happy herbing!


thumbnail_IMG_0244Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker.

Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Finding Peace in the Garden

By Karen Kennedy
HSA Education Coordinator

LemonBalmClose200911The lazy days of summer quickly transition to the more scheduled and hurried days of autumn. While glorious hues are found in changing leaf color and late season blooms like goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed, the pace of our world undeniably quickens during this season. Add the additional stress and worry about the Covid-19 pandemic and the message is clear–take time to personally cultivate peace and manage stress.

Research by environmental psychologists like Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, as well as landscape architects like Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi Sachs and others, points to the overall positive impact of plant-rich environments and contact with nature on reducing mental fatigue and increasing feelings of restoration, recovery from stress, and improved mood (Haller, Kennedy and Capra, 2019).

Gardeners, without knowledge of the research, often say they find peace and solace in the garden. The act of gardening, tending plants, and focusing on their care and growth, is a peaceful and mentally renewing activity for the gardener. Does fragrance have a role in the enjoyment and satisfaction of gardening? 

Passionflowerincarnata2019.2NervinesSedativesOne of the most enjoyable aspects of the garden is fragrance. The sense of smell is closely tied to our limbic system and can have a powerful impact on feelings of well-being. The fragrance of herbs such as lavender has a well-known association with relaxation and stress relief. Lavender also has a long history of having skin soothing properties, is a sleep aid, and can even relieve headaches. This favorite garden herb is now easily found in all sorts of self-care products from shampoo to body lotions. 

To have a bit of lavender to carry beyond the garden, see below for directions on how to make a roll-on lavender oil blend. This portable project is a wonderful treat to add to a self-care strategy and quite literally, add to one’s tool bag (purse, backpack or pocket)! Especially as we all grow weary of wearing a mask for many hours, putting some on the edge of your mask or on the bridge of your nose will give access to the fragrance where it is needed the most.

Author and HSA member Janice Cox, in her workbook Beautiful Lavender, A Guide and Workbook for Growing, Using, and Enjoying Lavender, shares the following recipe for making roll-on lavender scented oils. 

To make one Roll-on Lavender Bottle:

1 to 2 teaspoons almond, jojoba, argan, avocado, olive, or grapeseed oil

¼ teaspoon dried lavender buds

1 to 2 drops lavender essential oil

1-ounce glass roller bottle

Add dried herbs to the bottle. Top with oils and secure the top.

To use, roll a small amount behind your ears, on your wrists, temples or even on the edge of your face mask. Inhale and let the lavender aroma soothe your spirit.IMG_0584

Experiment with other herb combinations such as:

  •     Relaxing blend – lavender, chamomile, and cinnamon
  •     Energizing blend – lavender, dried citrus peel, and mint
  •     Refreshing blend – lavender, eucalyptus, and cedar

Note: use only dried plants when making scented oils. Adding a couple drops of vitamin E oil will act as a natural preservative, making the oil blends last longer.

Herbalist Maria Noel Groves of Wintergreen Botanicals Herbal Clinic and Education Center has additional information on making infused oils in her blog. You can read more about a variety of methods there: https://wintergreenbotanicals.com/2019/08/28/diy-herb-infused-oils-2/

MariaGardenCalendulaWithLogoAndBooksMaria will share other aspects of using peaceful herbs in The Herb Society’s upcoming webinar: Growing & Using Peaceful Herbs. She will talk about growing herbs that promote sleep, boost mood, quell anxiety, and encourage calm energy. She will discuss growing herbs in any size garden. The webinar will take place September 23rd at 1pm EDT.  Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/.

Photo Credits: 1) Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) (Maria Noel Groves); 2) Passionflower and garden bouquet (Maria Noel Groves); 3) Essential oil roll-ons (Janice Cox); 4) Maria Noel Groves (Maria Noel Groves)

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

Haller, R. L., and K. L. Kennedy, C. L. Capra. 2019. The profession and practice of horticultural therapy. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


Karen Kennedy has been the Education Coordinator for The Herb Society of America since 2012. In this position she coordinates and moderates monthly educational webinars, gives presentations, manages digital education programs and produces educational materials such as the Herb of the Month program,  https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html. In addition, she is a registered horticultural therapist (HT) with over 30 years of HT and wellness programming experience in health care, social service organizations, and public gardens. Karen loves to garden, knit, drink tea, and is a big fan of her daughter’s soccer team. She lives in Concord Township, near Cleveland, OH, with her husband, daughter and schnoodle, Jaxson.

HSA Webinar: Herbal Hues

by Sasha Duerr

Sasha Duerr is an artist, designer and educator who works with plant-based color and natural palettes. Join her this Thursday, August 26 at 3pm Eastern as she explores creating natural dyes. 
Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/ 

 

IMG_7166For those who love color AND plants, natural dyes connect you instantly to a vast range of artisanal hues that are truly vital, vibrant, and inherently meaningful through the ingredients themselves.

Plant-based palettes tell stories that are inherent to places, people, and the plants, and plant-based colors can be conjured seasonally from weeds, yard waste, florals, and food. There is an intertwined overlap with natural colors that are awe-inspiring and a color story that can directly color map an experience, like a walk in the woods, a seasonal produce palette made from by-products of your local farmers market, hues from medicinal plants, or even weeds or green waste found in your own backyard or neighborhood.

Natural color palettes can create wonder in the form of an inspirational curated experience on a whole other level, since the colors come from a living source. Botanical color palettes are stunningly visual, while at the same time they connect us to our senses holistically – inspiring us toward the creativity, wonder and importance of plants and their unique ecologies. 

HerbalHues3Lavender, mint, and passionflower leaves, which are sources of natural dyes, also have soothing therapeutic properties, easing sleep and anxiety by calming stressed nerves. These plants, as well as marigold, rosemary, sage, and aloe can also create a spectrum of aromatic hues from soothing yellows, to in-between blues, greens, and gray. True color therapy through and through. 

Creating a color story harvested directly from your herb garden can be as easy as brewing a tea. Herbs valued since ancient times engage us in a wide range of ways through the vitality of their aromatic, medicinal, and culinary uses, as well as the gorgeous colors they can create. 

Natural color palettes point toward the uniqueness of time and place and that is what makes the palette even more awe-inspiring than a synthetic one. The beauty and depth of working with plant-based palettes brings authenticity and immediate connection and story building built in with your color palettes because they come from slow and steady living sources.  

These colorful experiences speak of thousands of years of ethnobotany- a true and undeniable color coordination of nature and culture, which has, for the most part, remained dormant since the Industrial Revolution except by those dedicated communities and individuals who have kept the natural color spectrums brilliantly alive.

GATHERING

Aloe2Working with natural color can be a way to forage for beautiful natural hues and to connect with your local ecologies, even in your own backyard or urban sidewalk. When working with a landscape, consider what is abundant, in season, accessible, and even invasive. Wild fennel – seasonally abundant on the West Coast or in summer gardens – can be quite an aggressive plant in the landscape (even on urban sidewalks!) making it a wonderful and seasonal dye to gather. Collecting fennel flowers and fronds at their peak or just after provides the brightest hues. Wild fennel can create gorgeous fluorescent yellows from both the fronds and blooms. 

When gathering dye plants in the wild, make sure that you ethically forage, properly identify your plants, ask permission as needed, never take more than a plant or place can sustain (unless the goal is to harvest your full plant or to repurpose what may be considered invasive, waste or weeds), and always gather with awareness and gratitude. Knowing your sources, the plants, people, and ecologies you gather from is the best way to engage in regenerative and healthy practices with plant-made color. 

COLOR MEDICINE

Calming shades of yellow from calendula, soothing pinks from aloe leaves, steely blues from elderberry, and healing greens from yarrow, comfrey, and nettle – plant dyes can offer both healing remedies and beautiful color.  These therapeutic tones made from medicinal plants can also make gorgeous healthy hues at home. 

Aloe dye can be made from the roots of the plant for warm coral tones and from the leaves for pinks and yellow shades, depending on the pH of the soil and the water that creates the dye. Aloe as a dye holds two-fold the benefits of color medicine on cloth – its non-toxic beautiful hues and its ability to add nurturing elements. Unlike synthetic dyes, natural dyes by their very nature are nourishing, soothing, and replenishing to the wearer and the dyer. 

ALOE DYE RECIPE
Aloe spp.

AloeAloe, a succulent whose soothing leaf gel helps to heal burns, keep the skin hydrated, and offer UV protection from the sun’s powerful rays, can also make calming color palettes. Aloe is used as a plant dye in many areas of South Africa, where the roots are most often used to dye wool red and brown. From the leaves you can also make luminous soft yellows and pinks—without the use of any additional mordant. 

No mordant (additional binder) is necessary to create soothing yellows. A source of alkalinity, like soda ash, added to the dye bath can also conjure soft pinks and coral hues.  This recipe works best on protein fibers like silk and wool. 

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

4 oz of dry weight clean wool or silk fiber

16 oz of chopped aloe leaves

To shift from yellow tones to pinks, use 4% weight of soda ash to dry fiber 

GETTING STARTED

-Soak your natural fibers in lukewarm water and a pH-neutral soap for at least 20 minutes. Overnight is best.Aloe dyed fabric

-Chop the aloe and place it in a stainless-steel pot (reserve a pot just for dyeing, not for eating) full of enough water to cover your fiber and to allow your materials to move freely.

-Set the heat to 180°F (82°C) and simmer for 20-40 minutes until water begins to turn a bright peach color. Once the water starts to turn pink, turn off the heat and strain the plant material from the dye liquid.

-Place the wet fabric in the dye liquid and bring the dye bath back up to a simmer. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. For more saturated yellows, let the fiber steep overnight.

-When you have reached the desired hue, gently wash with a pH-neutral soap, rinse thoroughly, and hang to dry in the shade.

 

For more herbal hues and natural dye recipes, projects, and inspiration, check out these books written by Sasha. 

Duerr, Sasha. 2016. Natural color: Vibrant plant dye projects for your home and wardrobe.  Watson-Guptill. 

Duerr, Sasha. 2020. Natural Palettes: Inspiration from plant-based color. Princeton Architectural Press.

 

Photo credits: 1) Herbs used for dyeing; 2) Botanicals yield a variety of hues; 3) Aloe and other dye plants; 4) Aloe yields a yellow dye; 5) Pink and yellow dye from aloe. All photos courtesy of the author. 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

 

Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece

Philadelphia Flower Show 2021

By Janice Cox

1625145541867blobHello and happy summer to all of you! This year, I was super lucky and got to attend The Philadelphia Flower Show, one of the premier horticultural events in the country. It is the nation’s largest and the world’s longest running horticultural event, and features stunning displays by some very talented and amazing floral and landscape designers. It is also the major fundraiser for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which was founded in 1827. Their efforts include building community gardens, creating public gardens, and offering educational opportunities. This year, the show made history by going outdoors for the first time. Rendering of The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021This made it possible for more displays and also offered major improvements to FDR park in South Philadelphia where the show was located. Being outdoors had some challenges as the weather was less than cooperative. It was also a new time of year for the show, being in June rather than the traditional February, which is a slower time for gardeners, landscapers, and growers. There was a heat wave and major thunderstorm activity that blew the roof off a few displays and wiped out a few gardens. Yet despite the challenges of a new location, it was one of the best years ever, and coming out of the challenges of 2020, attendees were thrilled to be outdoors enjoying nature, plants, and each other.  I heard several times how happy everyone was to just be there, and one designer even commented, “It was plants that got us through last year and the COVID pandemic and the reason we are here today.”

The 2021 show theme was “Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece,” and the displays were amazing, creating habitats for people, plants, and wildlife. The ideas were creative and inspiring, and many of them could be incorporated into your own home gardens. Creating areas for pollinators, dining and living outdoors, and building up community experiences with herbs and plants in your neighborhoods were showcased.   

I hope you will join me on Tuesday, July 20 at 1pm Eastern when I will share some projects you can create yourself with herbs at home inspired by the show. I will also share some of the award-winning gardens and designers. This year’s “Best of Show” went to Wambui Ippolito whose design won because of the wonderful way she combined color, horticulture, and unique design elements. It was influenced by her upbringing in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, as well as her lifelong travels. Ippolito’s garden was named “Etherea” and was very contemporary in style. It evoked a feeling of peace in nature. 

Here are a few more themes and ideas from The Philadelphia Flower Show:  

Recycling symbolRecycle:  Reusing, recycling and upcycling is not a new idea, but it is one that is here to stay. Many of the displays used materials that often end up in landfills.  One team even built a bench and filled it with discarded plastic, pots, hoses, tools, and old garden ornaments. Another display had a flock of birds all fashioned out of used aluminum soda cans. 

Community:  Using your plants and love of plants to share with others was also a theme. Creating a free seed library, where people could share seeds or “check them out” and return more in the fall, was one idea I loved. There was also a competition between landscapers to transform “Hell Strips” into “Heaven Strips–hell strips being the area in most major cities between the curb and the sidewalk that is often bare or not maintained.  

Sunflower with beesPollinators:  Planting for pollinators is something we herb lovers just know how to do. There were so many displays focused not just on bees, but on other pollinators as well, such as birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and even cicadas. I got to attend the butterfly experience, which was magical, and also learned that you really have to do some research to attract butterflies to your yard. Each species has different things they need from their potential host plants.   

Grow Bags:  Everyone loves growing herbs and flowers in containers, but grow bags seem to be gaining popularity. They are affordable, easy to store, and promote healthier root systems than standard plastic nursery pots. I attended a “Potting Party,” where we planted grow bags with “thrillers, fillers, and spillers:”  zinnias, basil, and thyme, respectively 

Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureus' CU 5-26-07 bHerbs:  The use of herbs was everywhere and in almost every display. The focus was on local plants and also ones that were useful. I noticed a lot of yarrow, lavender, rosemary, and thyme. I think this is due to the fact that they are so popular and easily recognized, loved by pollinators, and also can withstand drought conditions and bad weather (which this outdoor show certainly had!).  

Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Happy Growing!

Photo Credits: 1) The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 rendering (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society); 2) Recycling symbol (public domain); 3) Bees on sunflower (Chrissy Moore); 4) Rosemary and Thymus ‘Aureus’ (Chrissy Moore).


Janice CoxJanice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

Herbal Hacks, Part 4: Herbs for the Home

This is our last installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks – herbs for the home. We hope they’ve inspired you to use herbs in new and creative ways. Enjoy!  

bees-insects-pollen-lavender-flowers-garden_Creative commons via Pxfuel

When your “Italian herbs” (whether store-bought or home-mixed) reach the end of their tasty usefulness, place them in the coffee grinder and pulverize. Then, mix equal parts herbs and baking soda and strew over your wool carpet. Let sit for one hour or overnight, then vacuum. It is surprisingly deodorizing and refreshing! – Lisa de Vries

20210503_162231Got a big patch of lemon balm in the garden? Freshen up your sink disposal after trimming the lemon balm leaves to use in salads! Stuff the stems down the drain and whirr away for lemony freshness. – Peg Deppe

I drop lavender essential oil on wool dryer balls for a fresh fragrance on my laundry. – Cynthia Wheeler

I fill large tea bags with lavender flowers, seal them with a curling iron, and then place them in my clothing to keep moths out…and they smell so good! – Rena Barnett

Wool dryer balls by Christine Rondeau via wikipediaHerb sprinkles for aromatherapy: I am not a very good housekeeper since I would much rather be doing other things – especially being outside in the garden. Worst of all, I do not like to vacuum – I avoid it like the plague. A way to make the task more pleasant and clean out the pantry or apothecary at the same time, is to use up your old, spent herbs. I sprinkle them around on the carpets in all the different rooms – anything from thyme to rosemary, and oregano to lemon balm, peppermint, or anise hyssop. Just liberally scatter them about with reckless abandon. Then, when you vacuum, you really notice what you are doing, and you are treating yourself to aromatherapy at the same time. Depending upon which herbs you use, inhaling the herbal fragrances can relax or stimulate you or give you a sunny disposition and helps to get the job done. – Susan Belsinger

Use a lavender-filled sachet in the dryer when drying your linens. Spray your lingerie with rose water. – Kim Labash

Use lavender buds to fill cloth bags for all closets and some drawers. You can purchase the lavender and/or the bags – but make sure there are no tiny bugs in either! – Becki Smith

Lavender sachet from PixabayProbably not a new idea, but I like to hang little bundles of fragrant herbs in my guest bathroom. If you include roses, the bundles can look attractive as well as adding fragrance. – Elizabeth Kennel

There are two herbs in my garden that are indispensable air fresheners – without the need for wicks or spray bottles. The foliage of both Tagetes lucida (winter tarragon, mint marigold) and Pycnanthemum muticum (mountain mint) will release fragrance for a very long time in a dry bouquet. The mountain mint is sharp and refreshing, especially in the winter. The marigold is simply one of my favorite scents in the world, soft and sweet like nothing else I know. Please do try it. – Ann Lamb 

Photo Credits: 1) Floral border (Pxfuel); 2) Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) (Erin Holden); 3) Dryer balls (Christine Rondeau via Creative Commons); 4) Lavender sachets (Pixabay)

HSA Special Program: Foodscaping with Herbs

by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

image-assetFoodscaping–it’s so simplistic. In its most basic form, it is landscaping with an edible twist. It’s the intersection of the purely ornamental garden with the purely edible or vegetable garden. Herbs, vegetables, berry-producing bushes, and fruit trees intertwine with ornamentals to become design elements. 

Join us for Foodscaping with Herbs with bestselling author Brie Arthur on Friday, May 14th from 12pm to 1:30pm ET. Brie will share creative ideas about foodscaping with herbs in this lively, virtual session. Lemongrass suddenly becomes a replacement for other tall grasses, providing beauty and enjoyment. Blend Thai basil with lemon basil for a stunning border. Use chives and garlic for structure and as natural pest deterrents. Discover how to plant beautiful and bountiful designs for year-round use, and learn easy-to-apply strategies to deter browsing mammals, including voles!

Brie Arthur - 2Food in our landscapes is not new. Cottage gardens and the French potager’s garden have been around for centuries. In the early eighties, Rosalind Creasy’s book, Edible Landscaping, gave this design style elevated popularity. Foodcaping is the 21st century interpretation of the edible garden. It is theorized that it arose out of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 when the next generation started questioning where our food came from, and more recently, the pandemic gave households firsthand experience in food scarcity along with the flexibility to start growing food. 

This special program is $10.00 for guests/ $8.00 for members. Become a member today to enjoy this discounted rate and as an added bonus, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free registration to our June 10-12th, 2021 Annual Meeting of Members and Educational Conference. To register visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/new—workshops-demonstrations.html

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Brie Arthur


Brie with BasilAbout Brie Arthur: Bestselling author and horticulturist, Brie Arthur has garnered acclaim for her enthusiastic presentations and practical, out-of-the-box gardening advice. Originally from southeastern Michigan, Brie studied Landscape Design and Horticulture at Purdue University. With more than a decade of experience as a grower and propagator, she now shares her expertise as an advocate for consumer horticulture and home gardening across America. 

Brie is an ambassador for Soil3 organic compost and has appeared as a correspondent on the PBS television show “Growing a Greener World.” She is president of the International Plant Propagators Society Southern Region and is on the board of the North Carolina Botanic Garden Foundation. Brie was honored as the first recipient of the The American Horticultural Society’s Emerging Horticultural Professional Award for her efforts in connecting a new generation to the art of growing. In her second book, Gardening with Grains, published by St. Lynn’s Press, Brie explores the opportunities in residential and commercial landscapes with creative and thoughtful uses for traditional agricultural crops.

Sensory Herb Gardens for Special Needs Children

By Candace Riddle

IMG_0317Ever since Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit, children and gardens have had a special friendship. That friendship is even stronger between children with special needs and special gardens called “sensory gardens.” 

The difference between a sensory garden and a “regular” garden is the human factor— regular display gardens are designed primarily for visual beauty, while a sensory garden is designed to stimulate all the senses: sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste. A display garden is meant to be viewed or seen from either a short or long distance, whereas a sensory garden is meant to be experienced close and personal using all five of the human senses.  

Educators describe a sensory herb garden as peaceful and calming with the ability to draw kids into the moment; even non-verbal kids can show their feelings about their garden experience.

When we use the term “children with special needs” in this writing, we are painting with a broad brush including physical, mental, emotional, and educational disabilities. When planning a sensory herb garden, consideration must be given to not only the garden plan—both hard and soft scaping—but also how children with any of these special needs can interact with the garden.  

_DSC0301As with any garden plan, sensory herb gardens start with the lay-out and hardscape: the beds should be narrow enough for children to reach into (from any side, the depth should be no more than 24 to 30 inches; that is one of the advantages of the tiered square design–it allows access on four different sides at three different levels, see photos), and the paths must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, which would preclude the use of gravel or a soft ground cover and mandate concrete, bricks, or flagstones. Mulch can also be used as part of the sensory experience. Pine needles, for example, have a sweet scent; wood chips have a tactile feel; and oyster shells have a scent of the sea and a smooth or sharp feel. A water feature can bring several things to the sensory garden: trickling sounds, the sensation of feeling water or wetness, even taste (usually happens when you are not looking!). Windchimes can be a pleasant addition for both the sound they provide and the visual appearance of wind moving through the garden.  

Once the hardscape has been planned, it is time to move on to the plant material, which is, of course, the fun part. Plants should be chosen for the special values they possess to enhance the sensory experience of the children. Below are some examples of plants that may be used in a sensory garden: 

Sight: lavender, nasturtiums, English thyme, anise hyssop, sage, and other Salvias 

Sound: pollinator plants, including Mondarda spp. (bee balm), that will encourage bees to make their happy buzzing sounds (of course, special instruction and close supervision must be in place to protect children and bees!). Balloon flowers and false indigo could be included for sound, as their seed pods make popping and rattling noises as they mature.  

Smell: Any strongly scented herb would be a good addition. Some of the most popular are rosemary, hop, fennel, thyme, sage, basil, chives, and, of course, scented geraniums.

Touch: lamb’s ear, yarrow, coneflowers, rosemary, and lemongrass 

Taste: basil, dill, and anise hyssop 

As you can see from the examples above, there is a lot of crossover as far as the plants go; they can provide multiple sensory experiences. Children should be supervised closely when in the garden to ensure their safety. While you want the fullest experience, the safety of the children is the most important factor. 

While the best way to provide a sensory garden experience is outdoors, children can have a satisfactory adventure using enclosed areas such as an enclosed courtyard or even a container garden. These are both good options for populations of students with a tendency to bolt or elope from the area.

IMG_0824The photograph depicts a newly created sensory garden in Maryland’s northern Baltimore County farmland. This garden was designed to be a part of the agricultural tourism initiative that is taking hold in rural areas. “The Farmyard” is a new agriculture venture started by a local farming family to introduce children to all aspects of a working farm, not the least of which is allowing children to sponsor farm animals and help in their care throughout the year. “Farm School” runs all year long offering classes in animal care and upkeep, crop growing, food preservation, and self-sufficiency. As part of the farm school, a class on herbs and their uses is taught. The sensory herb garden is a part of the education of students in the knowledge of herbs in daily life. All students are encouraged to touch all the herb plants, smell them, and taste them. An herbal educator is available during public events to guide children through the garden and explain the uses of the different plants. The focus in this garden is useful herbs in everyday life. (Though all of the senses are considered in this garden, touch, taste, and smell probably are better represented than sight and sound.)

The design of this garden was limited to the structures already in place, which worked out well as the terraced beds allow children of all heights to view at different levels, and the beds are also shallow enough to allow visitors to reach into the entire garden—all tiers are accessible. To increase the visual appeal of the gardens, snapdragons and zinnias, with their colorful flowers, were added to each garden section. Some of the other plants that were included in the gardens are: 

Rosemary—scent, touch, taste 

Sage—scent, touch, taste (The turkey in the pen next to the garden was a bit uncomfortable with the Thanksgiving herb right next door!) 

Fennel—scent, sound (for the wind moving the fronds and the pollinators that they welcome); visitors were invited to dig up the bulbs and taste them in the fall

English thyme—scent, sight (pointing out that the little flowers are used for baby fairies’ sleep!)

Dill—scent, sight (the full seed pods are beautiful!), and of course, the taste (just like dill pickles)

Lamb’s ear—touch, sound (the bees love this herb) 

Marigolds—sight, smell 

Basil (sweet and Thai)—scent, taste, sight 

This sensory garden is a work in progress, and it is expected to welcome children of all ages and circumstances for years to come. It is the long-range goal to have schools target this farm and garden as a field trip destination once schools resume a normal schedule.  

IMG_0427While the herb sensory garden at The Farmyard is on private property and maintained by dedicated volunteers, this is not the case in most public gardens. While public gardens often attract groups to plan and build sensory gardens, ongoing maintenance during the planning stages, as well as after the garden is established, is often performed by staff of the public facility. 

Gardens are an important element in many people’s lives, and sensory gardens, in particular, can add an immeasurable richness to the lives of children and especially children with special needs. We encourage you to explore supporting a sensory garden in your area.

Photo credits: 1) Sensory garden at The Farmyard (Candace Riddle); 2) Children in the National Herb Garden (Chrissy Moore); 3) Herb collage (Chrissy Moore); 4) Tiered sensory garden, The Farmyard (Candace Riddle); 5) Herb collage (Chrissy Moore); 6) Children and chaperones visiting the sensory garden (Candace Riddle).


Candace Riddle is a retired educator and an herbal enthusiast for forty years. She has been a member of The Herb Society of America for over twenty years and is a founding member of the Mason-Dixon Unit. She lives in Maryland.

Herbal Hacks, Part 3: Garden Care and Herb Drying Tips

The good ideas just keep coming! Read on for the third installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks: garden care and herb drying tips.

flowers-5792157_1920_Image by Prawny via Pixabay In summer, I dry herbs in paper bags in the rear window of my car. It only takes 2-4 days, depending on the amount of sun. – Gail Seeley

Fill a lidded, plastic trash can with water, then measure out and and add your favorite water soluble plant food. Store your watering can inside. This tip will make caring for plants in containers much easier. –Holly Cusumano

Folded and rolled towel cropped_Carol KaganExcerpt from Herbal Sampler, 2nd ed. You can dry herbs in your frost-free refrigerator. This method results in good quality and keeps the bright color of the herbs. Make sure the herbs are clean and dry. Remove the leaves from stems and place on a section of paper towel. Roll or fold the towel to cover the herbs on all sides. Secure with twist ties or rubber bands. Label. The paper towel absorbs the moisture evaporating from the herbs and the refrigerator will evaporate it from the towel. Place it in the crisper section or on a high shelf. Do not put it in a plastic bag or container. Should be dry in 2-3 weeks. –Carol Kagan

Always grow mint in a container so that you can take cuttings and give it as gifts, especially unplanned ones like a hostess gift or to give to a new neighbor. Include a recipe card with a recipe of how you use mint in the kitchen. –Peggy Riccio

Yellow_and_red_Tropaeolum_majus_(Garden_nasturtium) by Mary Hutchison via WikimediaMy husband started us on hydroponics last winter. We were thrilled with the grow lights in the basement for early starts. Basil and parsley did well. However, when we put them on the cart in the driveway to harden them off, here came the bugs. The hole-eaters even hitched a ride back into the basement at night to keep up their meal. So, my idea is to put the plants in a deep, translucent sweater box. Fill it with dirt, put the pots in the dirt and cover the top with an old window screen. The double source of soil helps the roots have more space and keeps them cooler in the heat. It is like a mini greenhouse. The sweater boxes can be found cheaply at the thrift stores. –Elizabeth Reece

Nasturtiums repel whiteflies, aphids, and squash bugs. I like planting them all around my veggies! –Shawna Anderson

herbs-drying from thegardeningcook dot comI have great luck using my car as a dehydrator. Sometimes I set up a clothesline using the coat rack hooks in the back seat to secure the clothesline and then hang herbs to dry, or I will lay them out in the trunk to dry. When we are experiencing the dry heat of the summer they dry in just a day or two! The added bonus is the scent of herbs fills the car. –Jen Munson

I was having problems with slugs on my basil, so I pulled lemon balm leaves, tore them up, and put them around the basil, which was only an inch high. It worked! I deliberately did not use mint because I was concerned it would root and then escape into the garden. –Peggy Riccio

Photo Credits: 1) Floral border (Prawny from Pixabay; 2) Paper towel technique for drying herbs in the fridge (Carol Kagan); 3) Yellow and red Tropaeolum majus (Mary Hutchison from Wikimedia); 4) Herbs drying (thegardeningcook.com)

Herbal Hacks, Part 2: Crafts, Health, and Beauty

From the calming characteristics of lavender to the practice of pressing plants, our readers find all sorts of ways to add a bit of herbiness to their crafty arts and relaxing rituals. Please enjoy our next installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks–herbs for crafts, health, and beauty.

four-assorted-color-petal-flowers_Columbine flowers via Pikrepo

I place a little crystal bowl of lavender buds on my bedside table. It helps me relax and get a good night’s sleep. – Janice Cox

Spray your pillow at night with lavender water for a relaxing sleep. – Kim Labash

If you are unfortunate enough to have an allergic reaction to poison ivy while working in your yard, did you know that jewelweed can help with the itchiness? It usually grows nearby. Just break off a stalk and rub the liquid onto the rash. – Janice Waite

DSC03233I love pressing herbs and flowers in a phone book or microwave press. I use the flowers for cards, bookmarks, etc. – Marilyn Roberts Rhinehalt

Before embroidering, wash your hands with lavender and lemon verbena soap–it keeps you calm and lends a lovely aroma to the work. – Kim Labash

Calming herbs such as calendula, parsley, and lavender make wonderful facial masks. Simply mix a tablespoon of natural clay with a teaspoon of fresh leaves or flowers, then add enough water to form a creamy mixture. – Janice Cox

Use a cloth on your lap when making lavender wands, and then gather the dropped heads and use for sachet making. – Kim Labash

On hot, humid days in the garden, when not a breath of air is stirring and the gnats insist on flinging themselves into your face, tuck several sprigs of southernwood (bruised to release the essential oils) into your headband or under your hat brim. It smells lovely and keeps the gnats at bay. – Kathleen McGowan

20201129_101632Buy a pair of rose bead earrings from the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America–the smell will waft around your head all day. ;) – Kim Labash

I love pressing herbs to make note cards. I print quotes on the front, package them with envelopes, and give as gifts! Everyone loves them! – Dianne Duperior

Light a “heady” smelling candle, such as gardenia, before you get into the bath for a soak–you won’t regret it. – Kim Labash

Photo Credits: 1) Columbines (Pikrepo); 2) Pressed flower luminaries (Erin Holden); 3) Lavender wand and rose bead earrings (Erin Holden)

My Adventures in Making Corn Husk Paper

By Angela Magnan

Corn husks for papermakingAfter watching a video online about making paper from corn husks, I thought it would be fun to try. I had never made paper before, but the video made it look easy. Don’t they always?! I first made some using the husks from six ears. After it didn’t really go well, I bought a book with more detail and tried again. 

But like many DIY projects that I try for the first time, or even the second, making paper out of corn husks reminded me that watching a video is no substitute for a detailed book, which in turn is no substitute for experience. It also reminded me that when trying something new, I should perhaps follow the directions. 

Corn husks and stalks are some of the many plant materials commonly found in home gardens that can be made into paper. Grass and leaf fibers are some of the easier materials to work with. Those who have more time on their hands venture into using bast fibers, the fibrous material in between the outer surface layer and the inner core of certain plants’ stems. Harvesting it involves peeling stems apart one by one and stripping out the bast fibers. Grass and leaf fibers only need to be picked and washed and sometimes cut into smaller pieces prior to processing. 

Corn husk pulpAll plant fibers need to be cooked for several hours in an alkali solution*, a mixture of water and soda ash, washing soda, wood ash lye, lime, or caustic soda (also called lye). Because the amount of alkali you add to the water is based on the dry weight of the plant material, you need to dry, weigh, and rehydrate your plant materials prior to adding to the pot. Cooking breaks down the fibers, and the alkali dissolves non-cellulose materials, like lignins and waxes, that can cause discoloration or prevent the fibers from freely separating. There are pros and cons to each type of alkali, but the trick to using any of them is that you need to balance out the strength of the alkali with the strength of the fibers. Too weak and you will be boiling your fiber for days; too strong and you will damage the fiber. 

Once the fibers pull apart easily, you can use a blender to turn them into pulp, or you can do it by hand using a flat surface and a bat, mallet, or meat tenderizer. 

Once the material is no longer stringy, you add it to a vat with some water and make the paper. This typically involves using a mould and deckle, which is a two-part frame with a screen that you dip into the vat. An alternative is to use a deckle box, which is a deep box on top of a screen that you pour the pulp into. Both of these serve to evenly distribute the pulp and keep it in the shape you want. 

Once the liquid has sufficiently drained back into the vat, a papermaker typically transfers the wet paper onto a wool felt or towel in a process called couching. Once much of the water is absorbed by the felt, the paper can then be pressed and dried.

On my first try, I cut the husks up into small pieces and then boiled them using washing soda as my alkali. Then, I used a blender to turn them into pulp. Everything was going as planned. But then? Because I was not sure if my first try would also be my last, I didn’t want to go through the trouble of mould and deckle, and boxbuying or making a mould and deckle and instead poured it through a screen. I ended up spreading it around with my fingers. When I tried to remove the paper from the screen, the pulp stuck to it and wouldn’t come off. Apparently, the screen needs to be wet before it comes into contact with the pulp, a detail I only learned later after I bought the book. And then instead of pressing it, I merely laid it out to dry. My result was lumpy paper with a lot of conkling, a term used by papermakers and watercolor artists for the wavy imperfections in dried paper.  

Because my brother had a field of corn he couldn’t sell this summer, I had plenty of free material to try again. So why not? I made a small mould and deckle from two round plastic containers, some foam, and a piece of an old window screen with the intention of making small paper circles that I could decorate with corn husk ribbons and string together like a garland. Then, after drying the husks from three dozen ears, which weighed about a pound, I rehydrated them in a five-gallon bucket. Because I have an endless supply of wood ashes from my woodstove, I decided to be overly ambitious and made my own wood ash lye, even though the book described it as unpredictable. The book also indicated that the amount of wood ash lye I made would be enough for one pound of dry fiber, but only half of my husks fit. I cooked that half in the wood ash lye for hours and hours, and they still didn’t break down sufficiently. When I tried to pulp it by hand, the fibers would not separate even after an hour of pounding. 

By putting the beaten fibers in a watery vat and swishing it around, also known as “hogging the vat,” I was able to get some good pulp to disperse into the water and pull out most of the bits that were still stringy. Even still, the tiniest remaining strings kept getting tangled in my homemade mould and deckle, so I became an expert at “kissing off,” the act of slapping your screen against the water surface to release the pulp so you can start over. In Finished Corn Husk Paperthe end, I removed the bottom from an old drawer, placed it over a window screen, and used that as a deckle box. Fortunately, I remembered to wet the screen first this time and was able to pour the good pulp through it, then couch, press, and dry it. I ended up with one 11 x 17 sheet of paper. To preserve my materials, I poured the rest of the stringy fibers through the screen and dried them as 2 sheets of lumpy “paper.” 

Despite my failures, I am determined to forge ahead. I may try cooking down my lumpy paper a bit more, and I still have half a pound of uncooked husks. And now, whenever I work in the garden, I can’t help but think, “Could I make paper from this plant? What about this one?”

Sources:

Hiebert, Helen. 1998. Papermaking with Plants. Pownal, VT: Storey Books.

“How to Make Paper from Corn.” Storm the Castle. www.stormthecastle.com/paper-making/how-to-make-paper-from-corn.htm

*Safety disclaimer: Alkali products can be dangerous. You should always wear gloves and goggles when handling any alkali, and you should have vinegar on hand to neutralize it in case of a spill or other accident. You also should not pour alkali solutions down the drain if you have a septic system.

Photo Credits: 1) Dried corn husks; 2) Partially beaten pulp; 3) Homemade mould and deckle and using a bottomless drawer as a deckle box; 4) The final product with the first try on the left and the second try on the right. All photos courtesy of the author.


Angela grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.